CHICAGO -- They know Kyle Ryan now.
Six shutout innings for a Tigers team desperately needing a win, having lost a star-studded pitching duel earlier in the day, will do that.
"I can't say I expected to do that," Ryan said after everything settled from the 8-4 win over the White Sox, "but it was rather nice to be able to go out there and show them what I actually have."
That's the beauty of it. The Tigers lost the Max Scherzer-Chris Sale meeting Saturday afternoon, the matchup they wanted to set up. They won the battle of dueling Major League debuts with the 22-year-old lefty who wasn't in big league camp in Spring Training and wasn't in the big league picture until last week.
In the end, it was enough to move them back into a tie atop the American League Central, their first share of the division lead in three weeks. Cleveland's 11-inning win at Kansas City meant the Tigers and Royals closed the evening with identical 74-61 records.
Back-to-back Saturdays with day-night doubleheaders on the road finally got the Tigers caught up with the Royals in games played. They ended up splitting both. Last weekend's twin bill went to form, with Justin Verlander salvaging the split once the rookie -- in that case, Buck Farmer -- took the loss in the opener.
This time, it was the opposite.
All Tigers manager Brad Ausmus knew about Ryan a few days ago was that he was left-handed and had put up outstanding numbers over a handful of appearances at Triple-A Toledo. That was more than many Tigers players knew about him, except for bullpen catcher John Murrian, who had caught Ryan in Class A ball last year.
Ryan became the 12th Tigers pitcher to make his Major League debut this season, and the 11th different Tiger to start a game. His debut ranked among the best, and couldn't have come at a much better time for a team at serious risk of a doubleheader sweep, even if several teammates had never heard of him before this week.
"We just really couldn't get anything going against their guy," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
Lack of familiarity has been a strength recently for Ryan, who cited part of his success with the Mud Hens to hitters who hadn't seen him before. That seemed to carry over to the big leagues, but so did his penchant for throwing strikes.
"He's got kind of a funky delivery," Ausmus said. "He kind of hides the ball. He turns his back a little bit to the hitters. I think the hitters have a little bit of trouble picking it up. He's got a little cutter, slider, fastball obviously, but I think the deception in his delivery creates issues for hitters."
He nearly didn't get to see it for long. As Ryan stared down White Sox cleanup hitter Avisail Garcia, he was having the kind of first Major League inning many would've expected. He had runners at first and second, one out and a 2-0 count on a dangerous power hitter.
He had to make a pitch, and he had to do it in the strike zone to a guy who could easily send it into the seats.
"At that point, my two-seamer was running off the plate, and I was just focusing on throwing one down the middle," Ryan said. "It ended up going down the middle and tailing at the last minute, and thankfully he grounded into a double play."
Ryan escaped jams with two runners on in each of the first two innings, then got on a roll, retiring nine consecutive batters from the end of the second inning into the fifth. Between six groundouts, two popouts to second and a strikeout, the White Sox didn't hit a ball out of the infield in that stretch.
Eleven of Ryan's 18 outs came on ground balls. Of the five hits he allowed, Ramirez's first-inning double down the right-field line -- past a hobbled Miguel Cabrera at first base -- was the only one to go for extra bases.
"I pitched for ground balls," Ryan said. "Sometimes I got a little wild, but other than that, I tried to stay down in the zone, calm, collected, and it worked out."
While Ryan pounded White Sox hitters into the ground, the Tigers beat Chicago starter Chris Bassitt in his big league debut with no small contribution from their legs, getting two runs each from speedy Ezequiel Carrera and Rajai Davis in third- and fourth-inning rallies.
Ian Kinsler drove in three runs with a pair of singles, plating Davis, who singled in Carrera and stole second base, in the third. Carrera's steal in the fourth following a one-out single set up Kinsler's two-run single through the middle.
Ryan left with a 5-0 lead, a margin that stood heading into the bottom of the eighth. By the time the inning ended, Joba Chamberlain was the third pitcher of the inning, inheriting a bases-loaded jam before Dayan Viciedo's three-run homer made it a one-run game. J.D Martinez, Alex Avila and Don Kelly added ninth-inning RBIs to extend Detroit's advantage.
Officially, Ryan was optioned back to Toledo after the game. For all practical purposes, however, he's staying. With rosters expanding Monday and Minor League seasons ending Tuesday, Ryan will spend Sunday in the stands before joining the team in Cleveland. So his teammates will get to know him more.
"There's work to be done," Ryan said, "and I'm going to do it."